7/15/11, Drilling ban requested near Indiana County parks

Drilling ban requested near Indiana County parks

By Jared Stout

Friday, July 15, 2011

An Indiana County coalition has proposed an amendment to a county ordinance that would ban natural gas drilling in designated conservation zones.

The proposal from the Coalition for a Healthy County was announced Wednesday, the same day that county officials were set to begin a process leading to recommended changes to the Indiana County Special Recreation and Conservation Zoning Ordinance.

The ordinance, passed in 1973, designated buffer zones and conservation zones near parks and spells out regulations for activities in those areas. Under the current ordinance, natural gas drilling is permitted within the conservation zones provided that a special permit is obtained.

Recently, the ordinance has started to receive more attention because of deep-well Marcellus Shale drilling. MDS Energy, of Kittanning, has proposed a Marcellus Shale well on private property within the conservation zone near Yellow Creek State Park.

Because of public outcry in support and in opposition to drilling, the commissioners recently tasked the Planning Commission and the Office of Planing & Development with updating the ordinance. The first meeting for that task was scheduled for Wednesday.

Earlier that day, CHC Coordinator Gerald Smith, presented the commissioners with his group’s proposal — written in partnership with PennFuture — for an amendment to the ordinance which would ban oil and gas drilling as well as surface coal mining within the conservation zones.

Smith also presented the commissioners with a letter asking them to urge the Department of Environmental Protection to deny a permit request from EQT Productions for a well in the Yellow Creek conservation zone.

Office of Planning & Development Executive Director Byron Stauffer said county officials have heard a lot from CHC, and he said the planning agencies expect to work with that group — just as they plan to work with drilling industry representatives, private property owners and other members of the Natural Gas Task Force — in updating the ordinance.

“I think we’re all headed in the right direction,” Stauffer said. “This is just kind of an advanced heads-up of what their thoughts are. … This is premature to the extent that we’re just starting the process with the planning commission at our meeting (Wednesday), but it’s nice to have their information as soon as possible.”

Stauffer said at its meeting Wednesday, the planning agencies would be proposing “a very open and transparent process” as well as setting future meeting dates. The group is supposed to have a status update for the commissioners by the Oct. 12 meeting.

At Wednesday’s commissioners’ meeting, two county officials were recognized for their recent inclusion on two state boards.

Gov. Tom Corbett appointed Indiana County Jail Warden Carol Hummel to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and selected Communities at Indian Haven Administrator Kim Cobaugh for the State Board of Examiners of Nursing Home Administrators.

“I think it’s a reflection of the leadership that’s in existence in the county,” said Commissioner Rod Ruddock. “I think it lets the county know that we have individuals who are in critical positions and doing a great job.”

In other matters, the commissioners approved several items related to Children and Youth Services, including the purchase of a Child Accounting and Profile System (CAPS) for client tracking at a cost of $37,000 from Avanco International. CYS Administrator Paula McClure said that price is half of what her department planned for in its budget.

McClure said the system will allow workers in the field to search and enter client information instead of having to come back to the office to do the same thing.

Also approved were several CYS-related annual contracts, including a $1,817.34 per month retainer for John Merlo to serve as the agency’s solicitor. Additional services beyond the retainer will cost $95 per hour. Sam Clark would serve as the substitute solicitor at a rate of $95 per hour, up $10 from last year.

McClure said the state covers approximately 80 percent of those costs.

Sara Ross, Roger Rorabaugh, Thomas Kauffman and Thomas Rivosecchi were selected as guardians ad litem on as-needed basis at a rate of $70 per hour.

Also Wednesday, it was announced that the Indiana County Emergency Management Agency would dedicate its building at 85 Haven Drive in Indiana in memory of former director Paul Beatty, who died three years ago.

The ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. Aug. 5. There will also be an open house that day from noon until 6 p.m. where the public can witness demonstrations of the agency’s equipment.

The commissioners also:

•  Approved a change order of $62,825 for the Snyder Road Water Line Extension for an additional 2,750 feet of water line along Roundtop Road in Brush Valley Township to serve additional households. Sufficient Community Development Block Grant Funds are available to cover the change order.

•  Awarded bids of $10,799.01 for official ballots and $10,702.17 for retention ballots from RBM Consulting for the general election in November.

•  Approved an agreement with INFOCON for a new county access system with remote online backup of all data since 1994 for the Prothonotary & Clerk of Courts. The up-front costs will be covered through the automation fund.

•  Accepted an annual grant agreement for $6,675 for the Hazardous Materials Response Fund.

•  Contracted with the Indiana County Community Action Program regarding the State Food Purchasing Program and the Emergency Food Assistance Program for 2011-12.

Jared Stout can be reached at jstout@tribweb.com or 724-459-2913.


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